DOC is reminding trampers that it is illegal to take the shells of the giant and endangered Powelliphanta annectens snail, after a couple took a live snail from Kahurangi National Park last week.
DOC community ranger Lee Barry said the Hamilton couple were tramping in the park when they spotted the snail shell, thinking it was just a shell.
A few days later, while travelling through Wellington, they went to show the souvenir to their daughter and discovered the snail was still alive.
Collecting Powelliphanta shells or live snails is illegal under the Wildlife Act and empty shells cannot be held without a permit.
The couple handed the snail in to a DOC ranger in Wellington over the weekend. Barry said they had to perform some “snail first aid”, but the snail was now in a healthy condition.
“It needed to be resuscitated and rehydrated. It had dried out a bit, but it is alright now,” she said.
The couple said they were unaware it was illegal to take the shells and were remorseful. DOC has decided not to name or charge them.
“I felt so bad when I realized it was alive,” one of the pair said. “My daughter gave me a good telling off and quite rightly so. I hardly slept that night.
DOC science advisor Kath Walker said she was glad the couple did the right thing by handing the snail back.
“Although it will now be expensive and time consuming to get the snail back to its home,” Walker said. “Quite honestly, we have better things to do.”
Barry said a number of Powelliphanta snails had been taken from the national park and later returned to DOC this summer. The snails were being kept in captivity in Nelson and would be released back to the park “when time and resources allow”.
The carnivorous Powelliphanta annectens snail have a ‘nationally critical’ threat ranking and are only found in the Heaphy/Oparara area of Kahurangi. Despite the small range, that is the widest distribution of any of the 57 species and subspecies of Powelliphanta.
The snails are among the largest land snails in the world and Barry said there have been instances of the shells being illegally traded and cases of poachers killing the snails to obtain a shell in top condition.
She said shells of dead snails should be left in the environment as they break down and supply calcium back to living, growing snails.